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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Alcohol Dependence Gene Linked to GABA Neurotransmitter

Understanding addiction is challenging and there are many, some quite convincing, arguments as to why some people end up becoming dependent on drugs and alcohol while others do not. Science has come a long way regarding addiction, a disease that was once viewed as a moral shortcoming and a lack of willpower, is now looked at in a whole different light. No matter what road one takes down the path to addiction, scientists in the medical community have deemed addiction an incurable disease that can be kept in remission with daily maintenance.

Ever since the mapping of the human genome, scientists have painstaking sought to find the genetic marker of addiction. A new study conducted at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) seems to have found some answers to the genetic connection with addiction. Research indicates that variations in the human version of the Nf1 gene are linked to alcohol-dependence risk and severity in patients. The Nf1 gene regulates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that lowers anxiety and increases relaxation feelings.

"This novel and seminal study provides insights into the cellular mechanisms of alcohol dependence," said TSRI Associate Professor Marisa Roberto, a co-author of the paper. "Importantly, the study also offers a correlation between rodent and human data."

The TSRI research team views the new findings as "pieces to the puzzle." The mysteries of addiction are slowly becoming understandable to scientists who have been working on this problem for decades.

"Despite a significant genetic contribution to alcohol dependence, few risk genes have been identified to date, and their mechanisms of action are generally poorly understood," said TSRI Staff Scientist Vez Repunte-Canonigo, co-first author of the paper with TSRI Research Associate Melissa Herman.

The Nf1 gene is considered to be a rare risk gene, but researchers weren't sure exactly how Nf1 affected the brain. "As GABA release in the central amygdala has been shown to be critical in the transition from recreational drinking to alcohol dependence, we thought that Nf1 regulation of GABA release might be relevant to alcohol consumption," said Herman.

The study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Source: Science Daily

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Chronically Homeless Substance Abuse Report

There are over one half million homeless people in America, according to a survey conducted in 2013. Of the 600,000 homeless, 26.6 percent report chronic substance abuse, according to The Washington Post. Two-thirds of the homeless were in shelters or temporary housing, and one-third were living on the street.

The 100,000 Homes Campaign, a group whose goal is to find permanent housing for 100,000 chronically homeless people - about one-third of the homeless living on the street are considered chronically homeless. Chronically homeless people are those with mental health problems, addiction or other disabilities who have been homeless for more than one year, or who have been homeless at least four times in the past three years.

The campaign set out to interview many of the un-sheltered homeless. Of the 40,000 individual surveys conducted over the past six years, it was determined that 60 percent of homeless men and women living on the street had experienced some form of substance abuse in their lives.

A number of programs who work with chronically homeless people with addiction problems first put them in temporary housing, with the requirement that they demonstrate that they can remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol, according to the article. Those who can meet the requirements can then move on to living independently in permanent housing. The problem with the aforementioned method is that many are not able to comply with total abstinence or they are unwilling to even start such programs in the first place because the total abstinence rule.

It is worth pointing out, programs that do not require total abstinence, actually see that participants cut down on the amount of alcohol they consume, according to a study published in 2012. The data comes from a study on a Seattle based housing program called Housing First, which provides housing to chronically homeless people, but does not require that they stop drinking in order to participate.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Acetyl Fentanyl Stronger Than Heroin

English: DEA Microgram Bulletin, June 2006, ht...
A new report has found that there has been a recent upswing in overdoses tied to acetyl fentanyl, a drug five to 15 times stronger than heroin. The drug is being mixed with other street drugs, such as heroin, and is being marketed as just heroin alone; many users are unaware of the potency of fentanyl which leads to dosage miscalculations, according to Science Daily.

"What's frightening about this emerging street drug is that users themselves may not be aware that they are ingesting it," said lead study author John Stogner, Ph.D. of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, N.C. "A patient may report heroin use and have symptoms consistent with heroin overdose, but an emergency physician may find that the standard dose of antidote (naloxone) doesn't work. Larger or additional doses are necessary when acetyl fentanyl is responsible. It's never good to lose time between overdose and treatment."

Acetyl fentanyl is an analogue of medical fentanyl but is not regulated in the same way. If acetyl fentanyl is packaged in a particular way, with a label stating "not for human consumption," the product is technically legal, thus allowing the drug to float in a legal gray area. The drug is illegal when packaged for human consumption, but legal when packaged otherwise and drug companies can exploit such a loophole.

"Clever and well-informed drug distribution networks will likely take advantage of the legal loophole and profit by replacing or cutting a highly-regulated drug with this less regulated one," said Dr. Stogner. "One of the many downsides of illegal drugs is you just can't trust your drug dealer. The trend of adulterants being worked into street drugs to make them more potent is dangerous. The significant potential for overdose of acetyl fentanyl necessitates more medical research and policy reform."

The drug is detailed online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New "Truth" Anti-Smoking Campaign: "Finish It"

Social media has become one of the most effective tools in getting messages across to the younger generations. With a few strokes of the keyboard and the click of a mouse millions of people can be reached at little to no cost. It makes sense that the “Truth” anti-smoking campaign, which focuses on teenage tobacco use, encourages young people to use social media to implore their peers not to smoke, The New York Times reports.

First introduced 14 years ago, the “Truth” campaign focused on internal tobacco company marketing documents which indicated that tobacco companies looked at teens as a source of replacement smokers. The documents came to light as a result of a lawsuit by state attorneys general.

The new campaign, called “Finish It,” from the Legacy group, understands that teenagers yearn to be agents of social change, according to Glenn Cole, creative officer of the ad agency 72andSunny. The ad agency worked with Legacy to create the new ads for the "Finish It" campaign. Today’s teens care more about taking positive action than protesting, points out Cole.

“In the past work, there’s a clear enemy, an opposing force, and that was Big Tobacco, and they’re still there,” Mr. Cole told the newspaper. “An insight we built this campaign around is that this up-and-coming generation is just craving to be agents of social change, and their biggest frustration is that they just don’t know how to do it.”

The "Finish It" ads say, “We have the power. We have the creativity. We will be the generation that ends smoking. Finish it.” The Truth website creatively gives teens the ability to superimpose an “X” in an orange square, onto their profile picture while still keeping their face visible. The “X” is the logo for the campaign. It states, “Give them something to follow. Change your profile pic to an ‘X’ and let everyone know you’re part of the generation that’s going to end smoking.”

If you would like to take part in the movement, you can upload your profile picture here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Multiple Deaths at Electronic Music Festivals

English: 100% Pure Methylenedioxymethampethamine
Designer drugs, such as MDMA or “Molly,” are synonymous with electronic dance festivals. No matter where an event is held, from California to Maryland, you can be sure that some people are consuming large amounts of drugs, which can be deadly. Recently, two males, ages 20 and 17, died after attending the Mad Decent Block Party in Columbia, Maryland, according to the Baltimore Sun. An additional nineteen other people were hospitalized after attending the same event.

Investigators are looking at the security and screening procedures of the festival venue, according to the article. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said, “Substances that are becoming increasingly prevalent at certain concerts are incredibly dangerous,” he said, “and as a parent I am concerned that our children may be taking unnecessary risks.”

Unfortunately, such occurrences are not isolated events, on the same weekend, a 19-year-old woman who attended the 2-day Hard Summer festival in Whittier Narrows, CA died of a suspected drug overdose, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corral said to LA Weekly.

While organizers of summer music festivals are increasing drug screening procedures due to the deaths from the year before, it is impossible to get all the drugs. Year after year people continue to take their lives in their hands when taking drugs like Molly. Molly is a powdered form of MDMA, it is extremely difficult to properly dose a drug like Molly, users never know exactly how much of the drug to take because they cannot gauge the strength of the drug until they take it.

Organizers from a popular electronic music festival, New York’s Electric Zoo, announced that this year fans will be required to view an anti-drug public service announcement online in order for their festival wristbands to activate. What’s more, the event is going to start later in the day to minimize sun exposure. Additionally, organizers may place “amnesty bins” at the gates, a place where event goers can dispose of illicit substances before they are searched.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Illegal Marijuana Operations Divert Precious Water

Aerial view of guerrilla cannabis plot
The fertile land of California has long been home to cultivation; its central valley produces 8 percent of the nation's agricultural output by value. California is also known for its abundance of marijuana growers in the north, being one of the world's largest producers of the crop. With all the growing that goes on, from tomatoes to cannabis, the state requires a vast amount of water - a resource that is currently less than abundant.

California is experiencing one of the worst droughts on record and the state declared a drought emergency in January. So it goes without saying that every drop of water in California is considered precious, unfortunately illegal marijuana operations are diverting the precious water, The New York Times reports.

The cultivation of marijuana requires a large amount of water, much more than your average vegetable - about five to 10 gallons. The state allows restricted growing permits for those cultivating for medicinal purposes. Due to the states stance on medical marijuana, the growth of cultivation in Mendocino and Humboldt counties doubled between 2009 and 2012, according California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. The expansion has had serious consequences, the agency says.

California has restrictions on the number of plants you can grow at any given time, but the state does not say how big your plants have to be. Naturally a number of growers grow their plants as large as possible, requiring vast amounts of water. When you couple the practices of some legal growers with that of illegal growers, who follow no rules, you can clearly see that more water than California can afford is being wasted. 

“Old hippies are not our problem — old hippies get it,” said Sheriff Thomas D. Allman of Mendocino County. “They’re going organic; they’re doing water reduction.” So are “young hippies,” he said. “I’m talking about people that move here in April, grow marijuana as fast as they can until October. The 20-year-old kid who wants to make his million bucks, and he’s using these steroid fertilizers. He doesn’t care about how much water he uses, or what he puts in the soil.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Expanding Opportunities for Recovery Act

New York and its surrounding states have been hit the hardest by the growing heroin epidemic, but unfortunately treatment opportunities are scarce, even for people who have health insurance. This week, in response to the opioid scourge, a bill was put forward in the U.S. House of Representatives that would help people suffering from heroin abuse get treatment. If passed, the bill would start a federal grant program that would fund inpatient treatment services for heroin abusers, according to the Hartford Courant.

The Expanding Opportunities for Recovery Act was introduced by Representative Bill Foster of Illinois and Sean Patrick Maloney of New York. The goal of the bill is to increase access to inpatient treatment for heroin and opioid users. The bill would allow states to apply for grant funding that would support people who do not have insurance, or their plans do not cover inpatient treatment, for up to 60 days at a residential facility.

“The heroin and prescription drug epidemic is ripping apart families and our communities, but tragically, many folks face too many hurdles to access treatment,” Maloney said in a news release. “The Expanding Opportunities for Recovery Act will help turn the tide on the epidemic by expanding treatment options for our neighbors.”

Long term inpatient treatment can be costly even if you do have insurance. What’s more, many insurance providers will only cover inpatient treatment after all other options, such as outpatient treatment and/or therapy, have been exhausted. People who lack insurance and those whose insurance will not cover inpatient treatment, may have an opportunity to receive assistance if the Expanding Opportunities for Recovery Act is passed.

Monday, August 4, 2014

New Review Finds E-Cigarettes Most Likely Less Harmful

English: Electronic cigarette charger
The popularity of e-cigarettes continues to grow and many users believe that e-cigarettes are better for the human body than conventional cigarettes.

While there haven’t been any long term studies of the health effects of e-cigarettes, a new review of all the research to date concluded that e-cigarettes are most likely less harmful than traditional cigarettes, according to Science Daily.

The Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has published a review of current data on the subject in the journal Addiction. Their findings showed that e-cigarettes should not be regulated more strictly than, or as strictly as, conventional cigarettes.

Lead researcher Professor Peter Hajek stated: "The evidence we currently have is clear: e-cigarettes should be allowed to compete against conventional cigarettes in the marketplace. Health care professionals may advise smokers who are unwilling to cease nicotine use to switch to e-cigarettes. Smokers who have not managed to stop with current treatments may also benefit from switching to e-cigarettes."

In the United States, many states have taken it upon themselves to regulate e-cigarette use due to lack of regulation the federal level. In Los Angeles, e-cigarette use has been banned from bars, nightclubs, restaurants and other public places. Similar bans have been put in place or are being considered in other cities and states around the country.

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